The GR11 adventure starts tomorrow!

This has been a long time in the making. When I began the journey, from avid hiker to keen backpacker, I envisioned an epic trek in the future somewhere. At the time, I imagined this would be the John Muir Trail, based on my love for California's Sierra Nevada range, and proximity at the time. After gaining much experience over the years since, and having whet my appetite with 4 days on the Camino de Sanitago in 2019, I made the determination to embark upon an epic trek this year.

Fast forward to August 2020, and here I am. One day away from the start of a truly epic hike. Beginning at the coast in the town of Irún, in northern Spain, on the French border, the trail meanders over the Pyrenees, to the coastline on the Mediterranean Sea, 522 miles away. Throughout the course of this coast-to-coast hike, I will be passing through a variety of environments, up to the granite alpine passes of the high mountain, and back down again. In the High Sierra I have crossed several 12,000ft plus passes in Sequoia and Kings Canyons National Park. Although the high passes of the GR11 may top out at 9186 ft (2800m), the trail boasts no less than 10 passes over 8200 ft (2500m). This will still be a formidible challenge. Often I have experienced mild symptoms of altitude sickness above 10,500ft. I am hoping I will be spared on this trek due to the lower altitude.

So my pack is ready to go. It weighs slightly more than I had originally hoped, but isn't that always the case? Originally, I had thought I would be taking my 65L pack, in order to fit all the necessities. This trail is expected to take up to 45-50 days, although it may take less. Either way, that is a long time on the trial, and so I had resigned myself to a somewhat heavy pack. Without food and water, the pack weighs 28lbs. As a bonus, I was able to squeeze everything into a smaller 36L pack, saving more than a pound in weight compared to the 65L alternative. At this point, ultralighters reading this will be scoffing at my exceptionally heavy load. I am quite happy with the weight, given that I will be carrying full camping gear. It is possible to make this trek without a tent. Staying in the network of manned refugios and unmanned huts is quite possible, with planning. I made the decision to take the slightly more wild route. Whilst maintaining the option of staying in a heated mountain lodge, and enjoying a shower and a hot meal, once every few days.

In addition the to camping gear, I am bringing sufficient, but lightweight, kit to document the experience. I have my iPhone, for internet (where available), music, podcasts, and camera. The iPhone is also loaded with offline maps and a track of the trail to refer to, if necessary. I am also bringing a GoPro, 3 memory cards, 3 batteries, a USB charger, a lightweight tripod and selfie stick. I have 22W solar panel and battery pack to provide power for the devices. Although it would be nice to enjoy the trail without this extra weight, I am looking forward to trail testing some tech.

One question remains, albeit an irelevant one given that I am already enroute. Am I actually ready for this? I could have trained A LOT more than I have, but I do feel confident in myself, my skills, experience, and determination. I think we can all agree, 2020 has been a rough year on all of us. Having a tough challenge to surmount is what I need, mentally, physically, and also spiritually. Tomorrow the adventure begins, and I will share with you as the journey unfolds.

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And the post didn't make it out of editing before the first breaking gear update. My brand new €2 ultralight 10L backpack from Decathlon survived the initial taxi ride. However, upon arrival at the bus station, one off the shoulder straps, the only one of the two to see any use, failed. If it makes it to tonight's accomodation in Irún, I will be happy. That bargain price gear can be tempting, but I would never rely on it for a mission critical task. Quality kit is a must in a potentially dangerous mountain environment.


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